Attack of the masked puppets

By Jeff Kubik

Xstine Cook isn’t surprised to see many passerbys ignoring the frolicking of an anthropomorphic bear and dragon. Neither does she show any signs of surprise as Inferno the Dragon begins eating from a nearby garbage can, causing a few eager onlookers to venture a closer look.

“I behave in nearly the exact same way when I’m the costume,” she laughs. “Masks actually tend to reveal more than they hide. It’s in the way it’s made, the way it contacts you physically. You just see the same behaviour over and over again.”

Speaking at the intersection of 7 Ave. and 2 St. S.W. over the occasional rushing noise of the C-Train, the International Festival of Animated Objects curator speaks against a backdrop of intricate masks and puppets–including the beautiful Tsimpshian carving work on Musqua the Bear’s wooden mask–showcasing the work to be shown during the festival’s second year. Running concurrently with One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo as a joint project between the Calgary Animated Objects Society and Green Fools Theatre, the festival will serve as a venue for Calgary-based artists and a host of international performers. It will provide an opportunity for interested audiences to learn about the process and art of puppetry through workshops and lectures.

“It’s embracing all the facets of puppetry and mask,” says Cook. “From theatre to exhibitions to cinema.”

With Calgary’s own puppeteer phenom Ronnie Burkett, British Columbia’s Three On the Tree, the Czech Republic’s Buchty & Loutky (Cake & Puppets), American Philip Huber of Being John Malkovich and many other performers, the festival offers a diverse range of original, primarily adult-themed artistry.

Originally spiritual objects found in a wide variety of cultures, masks on stage serve as an aesthetic fusion between the artistic and dramatic worlds. It’s a union Cook feels will draw audiences to the festival as well as recapturing the inherently playful imagination of this whimsical art form.

“Masks and puppets appeal to people on a primal level,” she explains. “We’re inviting Calgarians to come out and play, to be transported to a natural, childlike state. People tend to think. ‘I don’t want to play, I don’t know how to play, but other people are totally into it.’

“There’s a really strong, small base of support in Calgary and the festival is planning to expand that into the public.”

To those who see a return to a playful, imaginative state as irresistible, Cook stresses the importance of community support. Currently in the process of constituting itself for its January run, the festival needs support from both businesses and individuals through donations of time and money–volunteers and corporate sponsors willing to contribute to the arts and increase accessibility to city children.

“We still need help and we’re still looking for volunteers,” says Cook. “You’ll get a cool toque, meet some people and see our shows for free.”

So come out and play. No strings attached.


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